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President Joe Biden Jr. delivers remarks at IBM facility.

Source: Pacific Press / Getty

President Joe Biden took a huge step in advancing marijuana reform in the nation, issuing pardons for those convicted of simple possession as part of a new policy.

On Thursday afternoon (Oct. 6), President Biden issued a statement through his official account on Twitter, stating he was “taking steps to end our failed approach” regarding the federal government’s stance on marijuana. As the first step, he issued a pardon for all of those convicted of simple possession of marijuana on the federal level.

“There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden,” he wrote.

The second step of his proposed policy was to encourage states to issue similar pardons for simple marijuana offenses, noting that those numbers outpace those who were charged and convicted on the federal level. Lastly, the President asked for a full review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law, with Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland being tapped to oversee the process. Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug which places it on the same level as LSD and heroin.

In a video, President Biden took time to address the significant racial disparities he hopes this new approach will amend. “While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionately higher rates,” he said. According to statistics provided by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black people are still four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in the U.S. despite several states’ decriminalization efforts. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, some states saw Black people arrested up to almost ten times more than white people for possession.

 

President Biden stopped short of full decriminalization, as that falls under the purview of Congress. But it is a significant shift in this country, and it also is a follow-up on another of the goals promised in his 2020 campaign. The pardons will affect everyone convicted of possession since 1970. While full data is not presently available, that is expected to include the 6,500 on record during the period of 1990 – 2021. The pardon applies to U.S. citizens and lawfully naturalized citizens, and it will also include those convicted under drug laws in the District of Columbia. It does not apply to those convicted for those selling and distributing marijuana.

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